In this third blog post in the series, my goal is to find the hottest dish on the menu in an international cuisine. And through the lens of that one dish, I will attempt to analyze and learn about what it says about the cuisine in general.
In previous posts on this topic, I have covered Thai and Indian cuisines.
Chinese cuisine happens to be among my favorite international cuisines.
I had heard so much about Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodles on 10th and Race St. in Philadelphia. The place had great reviews and I decided that this was going to be the next stop in my quest for the hottest dish in another type of international cuisine.
The first thing that interests a person coming into this restaurant is the huge glass window behind the cashiers where you can see noodle chefs kneading the dough, twirling rounds of noodles in the air, hitting them on the counter tops and pulling the noodles this place is so famous for.
I remember gawking in disbelief at their artistry – if cooking is an art, then this place is one of its prime temples. This is a live food show at its best. I was hooked, mesmerized and looking forward to this learning process.
I spoke with Annie who is one of the supervisors and she gave me the quick background on this iconic restaurant. The owner, Mr. Chen, was the original cook whose exploits allowed this restaurant and its cooking to grow in popularity over the past two decades. They were originally at another location in Chinatown and just moved to this bigger location about 4 years back in order to better serve their ever growing customer base.
The menu was a good combination of Appetizers, Dumplings, Dry Noodles, Hand Drawn Noodle Soup, Stir Fried Noodles and Fried Rice.
Per Annie’s recommendation, I decided to order the Chicken Stir Fried Noodles with hand drawn long noodles (instead of the shaved kind) and cooked to maximum spiciness. And if I needed to spice that up even more, then there was always their famous spicy sauce which can be used to take things up a notch even more.
The dish arrived piping hot and I was eager to dig in – and it did not disappoint. The noodles were woven like magic, the heavenly aroma enticing and the senses were all in play. And then the first bite – magic happened. Buttery noodles, the spicy kick of the chili oil, the perfectly cooked yet bold taste of the chicken, the ginger and garlic providing the perfect background, and the hint of cilantro. These were the best stir fried noodles I had ever eaten.
China is a vast country with the world’s largest population, diverse geographies, traditions and religions. I learnt that the cuisine of each part of China can vary significantly based on locally available grains, vegetables, spices and methods of cooking. Sichuan, Cantonese, Jiangsu and the Nan Zhou region – these are some of the different cuisines.
These Nan Zhou noodles were from a city in northwestern China that bears the name. The popularity of these noodles can be attributed to the customization that it allows – the guests can choose broad or narrow, thick or thin, and any mix of meat.
At a time when the world is moving to automation and mass production, the centuries technique of making these noodles by hand is still preserved in Nan Zhou. These noodles tasted like nothing I ever had before. The skill and artistry of the chef in crafting these and the inherent flavor in these is worth the trip.
In addition, I had also ordered Vegetable Spring Rolls as a side dish. Perfectly fried, crunchy with a hint of ginger and shredded vegetables. Served with a spicy dipping sauce. Every bite of the Spring Roll was a delight.
I learnt so much about Nan Zhou Stir Fried noodles and Chinese cuisine in general. Not to be missed!